Tonight in Ferguson

Tonight, my privilege means that I can close my Twitter app. I can turn the volume down and cry for our society that isn’t broken- it’s been shattered since its inception. I can shake with fury and yell at these injustices without fear of personal retribution. I can sit with pen and paper, then put my fingers to these keys and I won’t be disturbed by demonstrations, because the streets here are filled with white people indulging in the privilege of ignorance.

But to say that my town is ambivalent tonight only holds a mirror to my own acts of passive violence. How can I erase and silence the voices of all those here who push back against this unjust dominance?

Tonight, I scrolled through Twitter reposting and reposting and reposting because my own words would not come and my own words should not be elevated tonight. And as I scrolled and shared these raw jagged-edged thoughts, the university in my town posted photo after photo of smiling white children holding their acceptance letters. So I asked them to stop, because they shouldn’t be doing that now, when the only thing the rest of us can think of is Mike Brown, and the fact that he will never smile at a university.

Tonight, I watched as every media outlet displayed split screens—an empty anticipatory courtroom; streets full of protesters. They did that because they knew what would happen. Didn’t we all? I watched as the president called for peace on half the screen while the other half exploded in smoke from the canisters of tear gas police threw into crowds of citizens.

Tonight, I sat across the table from my mother and I remembered when I learned about Martin Luther King Jr.’s dreams for the first time. There, in the multicultural 90s, in Washington DC, in a school that was entirely black save my sister and me, we were told rosy lies. They told us that Dr. King had peaceful dreams and he wasn’t angry because there wasn’t anything to be angry about because we used to swim in different pools and we all share now.

When I am six years old, I tell my mother this story I’ve learned in school and she looks at me sharply. I was there, you know. In 1963, the March on Washington. When she tells me this I am ecstatic and jealous because my mother had been there, she saw it happen, and I am reveling in the joys of having an older-than-average mother because none of my friend’s mothers saw Dr. King talk about his dreams. And I so wish that I had been there. Then my mother is even sharper. You do not understand. You do NOT wish you were there. I do wish I’d been there and she doesn’t understand that Dr. King’s dreams are a Big Thing because it is February and we are learning all about it.

My mother does her best to instill the sense of terror that historical period carried. She tells me about her friends who feared for their lives because they were black. She tells me of riots that scared her, even though she was white. She tries to tell me that there was nothing romantic about it, that we built such a corrupt world that violence was the only way out. She tries to tell me about the deaths that led to those dreams. She tries to tell me that they’ve taught it all wrong, that it wasn’t peaceful because there was everything to be angry about. But it’s all been lost between the decades and privilege between us so I pretend to understand, but privately I think she’s crazy for not constantly bragging about her former proximity to Dr. King’s dreams.

I don’t think I really understood what my mother was trying to tell me until tonight, and I know that’s a privilege, too. We are still living it and there is still everything to be angry about and it is not beautiful or romantic and we cannot lose this reality in the decades that span out before us. My white privilege means I am only now realizing the weight of what we have created, of what I unintentionally perpetuate. My privilege means that I can write a self-indulgent blog post about my own experiences and convince myself I’m doing something productive.

But I am doing harm if I only take up the hashtag, “Black lives matter!” in these unavoidable moments.

Tonight and every night, I am complicit. I must confront my complicity in this moment and all those innumerable moments that do not headline the national news. As a white American, I must find a way to use my position to confront what I have contributed to creating. Because black lives matter, tonight and every night. Black lives matter beyond a Twitter hashtag, and we must learn how to enact that belief. I don’t have the answers and I am finally realizing that I haven’t even been listening to the questions.

Advertisements

Hard Out Here

Back in November, internet feminists had a heyday with the release of Lily Allen’s video “Hard Out Here.” My friend Sam sent a link to the video and a group of the grad students in our department tried to unpack our concerns with it over an email thread. With their permission, I’m going to reprint that conversation here. Even though this is (certainly by internet time) outdated, I think it’s interesting to consider how we collectively form our opinions and challenge each other’s ideas.

Originally, we all thought the use of black women’s bodies in the video was a parody of Miley Cyrus’s recent (and continued) fetishization of black women’s bodies. In the course of our discussion, Lily Allen released a statement making it clear that no such parody was intended. That essentially ended the conversation and any hesitant defense of the video. Ultimately, it’s a good attempt but the violence and privilege of White Feminism are all over the video.

Sam: It’s hard out here for a bitch.

Lydia: I have been thinking about this ALL day. On the one hand, I love it. On the other, the use of WOC feels super problematic. I think it’s supposed to be a further satirization, but there’s really no explicit discussion of it. None of the lyrics reference race or the way white artists use WOC’s bodies in music videos, it just reconstructs that stereotype. So while I feel like Lily Allen is making a comment on it, it’s not explicit and is in a way further silencing/objectifying/disempowering. UGH HELP ME UNDERSTAND, WHAT DO YOU THINK???

Sam: That’s exactly what I was just saying to Jesse!!!…she is still coming from this place of power…her appropriation, even if satirical, is privileged. I tried to think that perhaps she was trying to mock Miley’s “black women as prop” thing, but now we have it in another form because, like you say, there is no explicit discussion of it.

Mocking the appropriation by appropriating it without acknowledging the “it” really just furthers it.

Lydia: It’s so frustrating because that’s such a glaring, harmful piece of the video but I feel like the rest of it is important for a wide audience to experience. But creating an army of White Feminists is not going to help anyone. ughhhhh. My hope is that teenagers see this, feel inspired, get into a Women’s/Gender Studies class and learn about intersectionality.

Megan: Y’all…..
#1 Sam, thanks for sending this! I love this vid. New fave….Pentatonix get lost!

#2…..the satire was blatant to me, and so I’m wondering if a discussion about the appropriation is necessary? I mean, I don’t think we (the ppl on this thread) need that explanation because we get it…so I think she doesn’t need to provide an explanation to an audience like us. Her satirical appropriation speaks for itself, even if it comes from a place of privilege. She can’t help that she’s privileged…in fact, I’m reminded of an Audre Lorde quote. Can’t remember it verbatim, but it’s something like “people should use their privileges for the benefit of others (to help stop oppression).” I think that’s exactly what Lily Allen is doing here, but Sam and Lydia are quite right in saying that she doesn’t explicitly say that she’s doing this. She expects the audience to figure it out. And perhaps that’s presumptuous on her part, but I think it’s also a sign of respect for the audience, since she’s basically saying “you’re smart enough to figure out what I’m doing here. So figure it out!” However, on the other hand, maybe the general public might need an explanation. I could see a lack of discussion being particularly problematic for people who don’t understand satire and/or privilege. Okay, so maybe the inclusion of a discussion is contingent upon different audiences. I dunno.

#3 Hope y’all are having a good night. I’m eating a salad and reading Foucault….talk about the BEST NIGHT EVER!!

Just found this comment on YouTube….this user agrees with you, Sam and Lydia…

“The thing with satire is that it DOESN’T WORK IF YOU CELEBRATE THE SUBJECT MATTER! e.g. the objectification of black women. Use a bunch of white women twerking to get your satirical idea across Lily!”

Vani: I love you all for having this debate in a mass email. PLEASE STILL DO THIS AFTER WE GRADUATE. YOU MAKE ME FEEL LESS INSANE.

Sam: WE ARE MASS DEBATERS. SOMEONE HAD TO, SORRY GUYS.

Lydia: MASS DEBATING ALL OVER YOUR EMAIL RIGHT NOW.

Someone once said (lol, like I know who, what are citations???) that satire goes up, that satire is meant to critique those with the power, who create the oppression. That’s why most rape jokes are the absolute worst, but this Wanda Sykes one is SPOT ON because she’s making fun of rapists and the idea of rape, etc, etc.

So I feel that in this instance, the character of the white man directing the video should have been a more prominent figure, because HE’S the one who needed to be satirized. In this delivery, it feels too much like it’s falling back on the WOC… and I honestly think the whitewashed masses are too bought in to realize what’s happening. BLEH.

Amanda: I’ve been thinking a lot about this, because I generally like what Lily Allen does. I think that her critiques of pop culture are smart and subtle. I understand what you guys are saying. I think that it’s probably true that her use of satire will be lost on some. One of the things that we’ve talked about in my classes is the idea of intentions vs. consequences.

It might be that an author’s intention was to make a certain point, but if they’re too subtle or ambiguous, what are the consequences of their text? Ultimately, the consequences are important. For me, the satire is blatant. For those that are just looking for entertainment, this may not be the case.
I guess the question is: to what extent can we hold an author accountable for their audience’s ignorance? To what extent does she need to blatantly show that she is commenting on this behavior and not promoting it? I dunnnotheanswer!

Here’s one of the better ones, I think: The Fear.

Sam: Jezebel. [This article includes Lily Allen’s response to criticisms.]

Whitney [resident punk rocker and musical aficionado]: NOT TO MENTION THAT IT’S THE WORST SONG I’VE HEARD ALL YEAR!!!

DAY TWO: After Lily Allen’s response, now we all know it wasn’t any kind of parody.

Megan: Thanks for sharing the Jezebel article, Sam! Lydia and I were talking about it yesterday….I was under the impression that Lily Allen’s video was an obvious parody of Miley Cyrus, but sadly I was wrong :/ It’s shocking that she’s like completely oblivious to what’s going on….makes me think about the video very differently now.

On a related note, you all might be interested in checking out this game….it’s “A Day in the Life with Female Experience Simulator

HAPPY FRIDAY EVERYONE!!!!!!